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welcome to "unguarded." race guard driver jeff gordon didn't set out to be a pioneer. no one treated him like one. dale earnhardt sr. called him wonder boy. as southern nascar fans were deeply suspicious of his precocious driving and california roots. but now at 43 years old, gordon's not only credited with opening the floodgates for other n nontraditional drivers, he's threatening to retake the sport all over again. yep, right now it's gordon sitting atop the leaderboard in
nascar's chase championships but before he makes his final push he's slowing down to sit down with us. ♪ this is going to be the best day of my life ♪ >> we are sitting here in the thick of the chase, this is sort of to put it in nfl term, the afc or nfc championship, not bad for a 43-year-old. >> yeah, i think for me now being in the sport as long as i've been in it, i just have a greater appreciation for winning races, as well as knowing that, you know, my career is not, you know, i don't have a lot of years ahead of me. this year has been extremely rewarding in so many ways on and off the racetrack. >> what a drive by jeff gordon sdmrn one of the nicest parts as you progress through a career is you become more comfortable with who you are. >> yeah, there's no doubt bit. >> it seemsz like you're just talking more freely about yourself now. you like wine more than beer.
you like to vacation in the south of france because it's beautiful there. just feels like you're more comfortable saying, hey, this is what i like. this is who i am. >> yeah, and when i first came in the sport i wasn't from the south and i wanted to fit in, and so i wanted to say all the right things and had my sponsors and make sure my fans and team was happy and doing a lot of other things for other people which worked out pretty good but along the way you start to realize who you are, who i am as a person and that, you know, i like being comfortable with who i am and because i've learned more about myself through my experiences. it allows me to say, you know what, it's just about being happy. that's what life is really all b the only way you'll be happy is being happy with who you are and, you know, i'm still learning those things, but i'm
certain cerp a lot more comfortable. >> you don't have to like a certain kind of country music. >> i think some backlash i got early on in my career was because i didn't fit that stereotype as a nascar driver, which was good and bad. >> i don't know how much of the backlash against you was solely because of the mustache, though. >> that i agree with 100%. the haircut and the mustache deserved to -- >> that was troubling to look at some of those old photos. it really was. >> you know, you got to understand that, you know, i was purees car driver from the age of 6. i was always trying to look older and for some reason i thought that mustache would make me look older. >> let me put a caterpillar on my face, that could really help. >> yes. >> thank goodness i finally got rid of that. >> dale earnhardt sr. was the
guy when you came into your own at nascar and the idea that he didn't welcome you, i mean, the wonder boy nickname was not a compliment. you cried when you won your first race and he makes fun of you for being weak. that's what we read of high school bullies. >> yeah, dale was that type of driver and because he was the intimidator, he knew how to get into your head. the interesting thing is when he and i were having conversations away from cameras and media, i think he really appreciated what i was bringing to the sport that i was not only challenging him but challenging the fans and creating, you know, a good buzz and some rivalries and he loved that. now, that didn't stop him from, you know, making fun of me and doing things at certain times. >> was it ever lonely? did you feel kind of ostracized. >> as long as i was winning races -- >> people threw beer cans at you as you crossed the finish line. >> i look back on that and i wish that happened every single
weekend becauses that a great problem then. >> crossing the finish line. >> you did have remarkable confidence just continuing to forge your own path. >> there became a point where we realized okay, i do bring something different. let's take advantage of this. let's do milk mustache adds and do "letterman" and do other things that, you know, you don't normally see nascar drivers do. >> it worked to such an incredible degree. frito-lay creates a potato chip shaped like you and you become the first to host "saturday night live." >> first time it was like what in the heck am i doing here but at the same time i knew that that was a huge moment not only for me but for nascar and for auto racing in the u.s. >> stick around we'll be right back. >> a huge moment indeed. gordon took nascar into the living rooms of people who never considered watching a race before. still, with immense popularity
does come immense pressure. you're going to want to stay with us after this break. gordon opens up about just what happens when you don't meet the world's expectations. >> people are like, what's wrong? what's going on. jeff, is it this, is it that and it's hard to climb yourself out of that hole. down.
i'm rachel nichols. welcome back to "unguarded." we've been talking to racing icon jeff gordon who shook up nascar in the '90s by proving you don't have to be a southern good old boy to be good at driving a stock car. he won an amazing four championships in seven years but take a listen as he explains how his legacy opening up the sport to a wider range of drivers also may have led to his undoing, especially when it came to the young california kid who followed in his footsteps, jimmie johnson. ♪ ♪ i can't drive 55
>> you helped bring jimmie johnson in and in a way, though, that then leads to problems for you on the racetrack because he's really good. >> yeah. you know, the thing with jimmie is i met him, i saw him on the track, i thought he was doing amazing things so you can't be disappointed to see somebody that's that good do that well. you know, did it put a thorn in my side at times because maybe i could have won a championship if it weren't for him, maybe. maybe. and our friendship was challenged at times because of that. but at the same time, i wouldn't have done it any different. i just would like him to share a little bit more. >> he lives basically across the street from you. >> he does, yes. i could throw a rock in his house. >> have you thought about throwing rock, many rocks at his house. >> it's not like that i think we all realize if we do our jobs and do it well, then, you know, one of us should be in victory lane. >> familiar place and a sight for jeff gordon. >> it has been 13 years since you have won the championship. always went through that period
in your late 30s where it had been a while where it was a while and having increasing back problem answer started saying, yeah, i can't see myself driving a race car after i'm 40. >> i wasn't having fun, number one. i don't know. i just didn't feel like i was contributing in the way that i had when we won championships and so you start to question, you know, is it me? is it, you know, the new rules of the car, the points, you know, you start to question these things. you're around fans all the time. they're also questioning then social immediate ka comes along and you get to see some of the stuff and it's hard to climb yourself out of that hole. >> derek jeter has talked about sort of the gift and the curse of winning a lot young and that that almost can start to affect how you compete and the pressure you put on yourself. >> absolutely. i look at derek in a lot of ways how our careers have mirrored one another. when you don't achieve the ultimate goal which is winning the championship or go through a season where you don't even win a race, it's extremely
disappointing, but i've always said as long as i'm healthy and as long as i'm competitive and enjoy myself i'm going to do it and luckily, alan gustafson came along. >> new crew chief. >> and he has this great way of motivating me and gave me a new life. >> you mentioned your family too, the energy you get from wa wanting to race in front of your kids and them being old enough to see what you do and ella is pretty excited about it. >> the first time she came to victory lane when she could understand what that was all about was a bit of a changing moment for me because i realized, oh, my gosh, this means a lot to me to see my daughter understand what her dad does. >> it's got to be very motivating. >> it is, highly motivating. >> your stepdad got you into racing because you loved it. now your daughter ella is into racing and you put her in a quarter midget because cgirls ae
racing. >> oh, my gosh, there's a female driver out there and i knew when i saw her interest that we had to at least put her behind the wheel. >> if you do win this year and that comes together for awe and you get to grab those kids and hold them up in victory lane what is that moment going to be like compared to all the other championships? >> no comparison. the ultimate is winning the championship and having them to be a part of that and i can't think of anything better this life than experiencing that moment, such an employment with my whole family there and all of us taking it all in. it would be unbelievable. ♪ this is going to be the best day of my life ♪ ♪ my life >> wouldn't that be something? and it is certainly within reap for gordon whether it's the crew chief or maybe the inspiration of racing for his family, he has been having a career year in the sport that he changed forever. all right. coming up we switch things up
from the track to the gridiron catching up with one of the hottest quarterbacks in the nfl right now, matthew stafford. >> obviously you walk into this situation, the face of the franchise in a lot of cases and you have to learn to adapt. all around the world the dedicated people of united airlines ♪ are there to support you. ♪ that's got your back friendly. ♪
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welcome back to "unguarded." i'm rachel nichols. the nfl is a quarterback league. just look at how this weekend's broncos/patriots matchup is being billed. manning versus brady but how does a young quarterback navigate trying to become the next manning or brady? well, a little earlier, i caught up with matthew stafford, the former number one overall draft pick whose 6-2 detroit lions are
leading their division. well, welcome, matt. i mine such an interesting time to be an nfl quarterback. as you've been doing this job now for a few years, what have you learned about leading an nfl team, the good parts of that and the hard parts? >> quite a bit. you know, obviously you walk into the situation, the face of the franchise immediately in a lot of cases and you have to learn to adapt. you know, a new city, a new team, but at the same time you have to be yourself and make sure you're original and true to you, but, you know, there's a lot that goes wit, not only on t the field but off the field and the more experience you get the better you get at eight. >> yeah, there are only 32 starting quarterbacks in this league. you are one of the faces of the nfl and the league certainly has been going through some tough issues. how much did you hear from fans at the start of the season that they were frustrated and we heard plenty of players say they were frustrated too. were you one of them?
>> you know, it's obviously like you said we went through as a league some tough times. you know, with off the field issue, on the field issue, whatever it was, but i feel like, you know, once the game started being played, people had that to talk about and, you know, all the other off the field stuff will take care of itself. obviously we have people in charge to make sure those decisions are made in the correct manner and we trust them to do that. >> as the quarterback there's also this expectation of you just inside your own building. you got to be that good example for off the field. you dot to be the hardest worker. you got to be the first one in the building. i do know that earlier this season you had an interesting experience trying to get in to wok for the day. a bridge on the freeway, one of the freeways you travel to actually collapsed? >> yeah, it was a crazy morning to say the least. you know, obviously a down bridge on the freeway is not something you're expecting to see on the way to work. >> fortunately the bridge didn't crash on to your car but you
were one of the first to go on it and you're walking on a highway where there's cars going 60, 70 miles an hour. >> the first time i walked under it there was a little bit of a gap that you could walk or drive your car under. i walked underneath it kind of a little scared. making sure it didn't fall on me but i didn't know what to do. i was just trying to figure out what the situation was trying to find a police officer to talk to. we made it work and i till got in there with plenty of time. >> you've gotten a lot of attention for your arm, how long you can throw things. i want to show people the video. there's all kinds of video out there online of you throwing all kind of objects, a banana, some rolled up socks. i mean, how much fun is it to get to do stuff like that. >> it's a blast. part what have makes this job fun, not only the football but opportunities offer the field for sure. >> you're encouraging people to send this their own videos right now too. i understand you and the lions are working with a company reprieve encouraging people to recycle and want them to send in videos of them throwing bottles,
cans, everything in creative ways. >> yeah, we're challenging fans to make the smart throw with reprieve, the looips and i have partnered with them. it's been great and just want fans to submit their videos of them making the smart toss or the smart throw and showing me what they have to do a trick shot battle. >> we wish you the best. one of these days down the road i expect you to post a video throwing the lombardi trophy around after you win a super bowl. put that in the back of your mind somewhere. >> that's the plan. thank you very much. did you see that banana? serious air right there. all right, it is marathon weekend here in new york city and coming up we're going to visit with the man simply knowns meb, the master of the 26.2 mile but moment of the week, lebron james returned to cleveland, the building was absolutely electric and his first basket, yeah, that is what the city of cleveland had been waiting for. the return of the king indeed.
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welcome back to "unguarded." as the new york city marathon approaches this sunday it's hard to not also think of this year's emotional boston marathon which was dedicated to the victims of last we're bombings. most inspiring, that the man who won that race was an american, who had scrolled the names of those who died on his bib and earlier i had the chance to catch up with meb keflezighi. he's hoping that in new york this weekend he can pull off another triumph. take a listen. well, welcome, meb. thanks for joining us. i do want to talk about new york, of course, but first we have to discuss what happened at the boston marathon earlier this
year. >> for 365 days or a little more i was thinking about what can i do positively to change the scene of the street where there was bombings and i was nervous to write the names of the victims on my numbers and i wanted to give them the best i can and it was just an amazing experience and they were saying usa, usa, go meb, go meb. >> you are the quintessential american success story and had that great tweet, exactly 27 years ago today the u.s. welcomed my family. six months ago i said thank you the best way i can. >> the united states give us so much opportunity to me and my family, 27 years ago we came here not knowing english, we didn't have the finance, language barrier and it was difficult but my parents always told us work hard, this is the land of opportunity, don't waste it and, yeah, we are the american dream and we feel blessed that the united states give us the opportunity because there were other countries that didn't do that. >> you go from that to a guy who
is getting phone calls from president obama. you recently even attended a state dinner at the white house. i hear you got to sit at a table with former president jimmy carter and he ran cross country in college. de trash talk you at all during the dinner or what? >> i mean, it was an unbelievable experience. i was so honored to be at the white house. president jimmy carter was there. i've been meaning to meet you because i ran high school and a big fan and from humble beginnings come here 27 years ago and to be very white house and having dinner with president barack obama, they were very nice. >> not bad at all for sure. now, of course, getting ready for the new york marathon and here courtesy of power bar. how rigorous are you before a race about what you put into your body and how you train in general for a moment like this weekend? >> almost definitely. nutrition is very important. you are what you put in your body and have to be very careful of what you put on and for me, you know, since i thurped 35, i used a lot of snacks in between to be able to graze throughout
the day instead of big meals. >> you are so beloved here in new york city and i have to play everyone a clip of you on "letterman" afters lat time you won. >> my experiencing a runner's high or is tet bus fumes. >> number seven. >> is that the finish line or a crime scene tape? >> how much fun was that whether it's letterman or other the all new york institutions, i would have to think running this mar honor is an experience like no other. >> to be on david letterman calling the top ten, that was funny, i was nervous. the marathon has been a great moment for me. ninth in the new york city marathon. excited to be there. >> we wish you the best of luck, meb. i know you'd like to mo pull off, get the with the w," boston and new york. >> i look forward to it. giving my best. >> just a great story, right? he's such an easy guy to root for that is going to do it for tonight's show. follow me on twitter and facebook or on the web at cnn./unguarded and be right back